Lysistrata Jones is the new college basketball / sexual extortion musical comedy. It’s adapted very loosely from Aristophanes by playwright Douglas Carter Beane and songwriter Lewis Flinn. (Actually “suggested by” or “inspired by” is a better way to put it than “adapted from.”) The show had a run off-Broadway last summer, staged in the actual gymnasium of the Judson Memorial Church. Recently it reopened at the Walter Kerr Theatre to a rave review from the New York Times.
I saw the show last Friday at a special matinee performance and had an enjoyable time. As many have observed, this musical is not as pointed as Aristophanes’ famous anti-war comedy Lysistrata. It has more in in common with the scads of raunchy coming-of-age film comedies that began with Porky’s and proceeded through American Pie and beyond. Some have also pointed out that the libretto—about cheerleaders who withhold sexual favors from the basketball team in order to incite them to win games—isn’t as literate and witty as some of Beane’s nonmusical plays (which include As Bees in Honey Drown and The Little Dog Laughed). That’s true, but the humor in Lysistrata Jones seems appropriate to the genre and to the characters Beane’s dealing with. And Beane’s dialogue isn’t entirely simple-minded: I don’t recall Porky’s quoting Walt Whitman and/or Emily Dickinson as Lysistrata Jones does.
Not sure how long Lysistrata Jones will remain on Broadway. It’s probably not the next Mamma Mia!. But I have a feeling it will be a title that will show up in all sorts of regional and college productions in the next few years. The one thing that could prevent that is the show’s tendency toward topical humor. In fact, Beane must be adding new lines to the script on a regular basis. There’s no way a joke about Kim Jong Il at Friday’s performance was in the show when it played at the Judson gym, or even when it first opened at the Kerr.